Modern history has partly been shaped and written by Anglo-Saxons. Two of its world leaders were Anglo-Saxons, and if we add race and religion to this ethnic group/nationality, as in 'white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants' (WASPS), indeed, the modernisation theme sprang as much from here as any other group/nationality, if not more than all. One of those modernisation sparks can be traced back to Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses in 1517, starting the Protestant break from monolithic, largely fundamentalist and static Catholic Christianity. His thesis, that God's work on earth is surely that of humans themselves, would subsequently intertwine with John Calvin's predestination. Both loosened the atmosphere for Dutch and English sailors, for example, to competitively chart ocean-routes the world over, establish white supremacy over declining civilisations and decaying societies, and pave the way for European, then U.S., hegemony. Adam Smith poignantly translated these developments in terms of production and the market; and though Smith was influenced by François Quesnay, one of many pre-eminent French 'philosophes' of the mid-18th Century, it is to Smith we turn to explain the foundation of capitalism and to England and the United States as the capitalist springboards than France.
The list goes on. We largely trace democracy and many associated values to the English Enlightenment rather than the more rooted French philosophers; and to Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan to explain political realism (that is, the survival-of-the-fittest instinct) rather than his forbears, Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, Kautilya's Arthashastra, and Sun Tzu's Art of War. Economic efficiency is reduced to the 'Protestant work ethic' than to German industriousness; and even though both the 'Anglo' and 'Saxon' components of the subject at hand are of German/Dane origin, the tiny islands that migrants from here moved to 16-17 centuries ago shifted the trademark to England and wherever England could send enough of its countrymen (even as prisoners, as in Australia), to create a dominion, colony, and, together, an empire.
History is often seen as the actions and beliefs of the right person being at the right place at the right time to do the right thing. Accordingly, the modern history landscape is dotted with too many 'Anglo-Saxon' footprints/fingerprints to be matched by any other group: in addition to the Protestant faith, free-market philosophy, practice, and policy, as well as generic philosophy (for example, the 18th Century English Enlightenment), there is also the First Industrial Revolution, and all the inventions that got it going, coming all the way down to the most recent times, with innovations in science, technology, and software.
It has been a privileged, productive, progressive, and profitable identity that future historians might rank alongside the Greeks of antiquity fame, as well as civilisations in Egypt, along the Euphrates-Tigris, Indus Valley, the Gangetic Plains, and China. No other group can claim or have contributed as much in modern times.
Yet, if we look around us today at the start of the 21st Century, this very group is under unusual stress, unusual because stress, which has been a 'normal' condition with almost every other group, seems to be visiting the Anglo-Saxons for the first time in such a concerted and extensive way. The current populist outburst offers one exposure to the predicament. In some countries this has been successfully challenged by reformers. France and the Netherlands expose two examples of that, if their election this year is any guide. Two others have not: Great Britain, given the Brexit vote mindset, and the United States under Donald J. Trump. Though this article is being written before the June 8 British election, which could prove the falsity of the British 'disease' (a term used to describe diminishing global competitiveness, first noticed and described about Britain a century ago), more Anglo-Saxons seem to be turning into a withdrawal, value-laden, ethnicity-specific mode or mood than was historically evident, suggesting something is afoot.
The British 'disease', or vanishing competitiveness, is common knowledge for both Britain and the United States, indeed, one of the reasons behind the populist surge: others, leaning upon these two countries, have been doing better, but without reciprocating trade or investment gestures. Yet, competitiveness has never run a linear course: at some point diminishing returns will come in the free market, as Smith himself validated, necessitating innovations. Absent market-shaking inventions, the competitiveness begins to clip. To blame others is to take the low-road: domestic restructuring could change the picture positively rather than raise hue, cry, and heat about outsiders.
With the passage of economic competitiveness, the light dims in other sectors too: foreign students, for example, who typically do better in class than students from Great Britain or the United States, face increasing resentment; connections between competitive capabilities and human rights arise, elevating child-labour, low-wage, or gender-exploitation arguments against other countries by two whose economic spurt depended upon African slaves (shipping them was one industry, wage-less work another); and letting exogenous developments, such as terrorism, to inflate the mindset against the increasingly competitive countries, like China, as Trump exposed during his election campaign (or like the Jap-bashing mood of the 1979s/1980s).
Both Great Britain and the United States face virulent anti-immigrant moods that cannot fully be attributed to terrorism: Trump constantly refers to generic outsiders for being commercially unfair to the United States, or militarily free-riding the United States, in addition to pointing Muslims out for a lot else; and even France could recover very nicely from its terror-incidents to vote for Emmanuel Macron the reformer than Marine LePen the populist.
As a British Dominion, Canada most visibly showed how the reactionary Anglo-Saxon mindset that dominated the country for almost a decade under Steven Harper, had to be vigorously rolled back in 2015. That Justin Trudeau is not an Anglo-Saxon might have helped the cause; so too other Anglo-Saxons, who must have mixed and mingled too multi-culturally to fully defend the pre-eminence of Anglo-Saxon identities/credentials/values/domination tendencies.
When we take the anti-terrorism crusade, we see Anglo-Saxon countries at the head: even discounting the expanded North Atlantic Treaty Organisation family today, British and U.S. troops, along with Australian, and, during Harper's tenure, Canadian, forces dominated those dispatched to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria: they mobilise first, stay the longest, and shape seemingly collective outcomes for the rest of the world.
Growing British and U.S. overall retrenchment-mindedness feeds their implicit and explicit opposition, respectively to environmental protection. Everything that a 'fortress mindedness' notion conveys was partly of Anglo-Saxon origin during World War II: at first it depicted the exclusiveness of Anglo-Saxon accomplishments and communities (British liberty from Nazi conquests; U.S. aloofness from global engagements until then); more recently this has shown a preventive tone, as if to hinder the very multiculturalism it evoked from further development now that the many groups within the multicultural family seem to be getting the better half of any Anglo-Saxon-laced deals.
It would be morale-boosting if this reading is wrong; but something is happening in Anglo-Saxon camps that depart from historical patterns. That aberration is disquieting.
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.
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